Interns piercing has Washington talking

As the new reporting intern in Washington, D.C., I met my new employers for the first time at the company Memorial Day picnic last summer.
I could tell they hadn’t been warned.
They stared with disbelief when I spoke. They exchanged glances. Finally, they spoke. “Do you have your, um, tongue pierced?”
I gave an affirmative nod and stuck out my tongue, revealing a silver bar capped by two round balls. They looked at it, then looked at each other. I knew it was going to be a long summer.
The little silver tongue stud so common on the University campus continues to be an anomaly in the halls of our nation’s Capitol, one of the last institutions to enforce a strict dress code.
At the picnic, I was hit with a flood of questions. “No, it didn’t hurt.” “Yes, my tongue was pierced when I interviewed for this internship.” “No, I won’t take it out.” “No, it didn’t hurt.” “Yes, I can eat.” “No, I don’t have trouble talking.” “Yes, chicks do dig it.” “No, it didn’t hurt.”
The first few reporters to learn about my metallic appendage spared the others from the same awkward curiosity. Instead, this is how I was introduced:
“Hey Greg, meet our new, hip intern. Come on, stick out your tongue.”
More than anything, my piercing points out older people’s age as they recognize a new generation’s fashion rebellion. Men who wore long hair in the ’60s and women who bucked tradition by wearing pants to work are confronted with pierced tongues and spacers stretching out earlobes.
In Minneapolis last spring, my roommate actually criticized me for piercing my tongue, not because it was rebellious or impulsive, but because it was so prevalent that my new jewelry was de passe. I was a lemming, following the mob to the neighborhood piercing parlor, compelled by the peer-pressure mantra, “Everybody’s doing it.”
In fact, several hundred 20-somethings get their bodies pierced each week at Saint Sabrina’s Parlor in Purgatory in Minneapolis, one of the area’s top parlors, according to Shannon Lamm, a piercer at Sabrina’s.
Lamm said tongue piercings are one of the most popular requests, along with noses and belly buttons, although nipple piercings are gaining popularity among women. Most of her customers are in their early 20s.
The perception on Capitol Hill is considerably different.
Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., never saw a pierced tongue before he sat down for a face-to-face interview with me this summer. He politely concealed his curiosity until I left, then asked a senior aide what that thing in my mouth was.
Later he approached me about the awkward situation and even admitted that he liked the tongue stud. We agreed that his wife, Sheila, should pierce her tongue, but Mrs. Wellstone was considerably less enthusiastic.
In fact, rather than hinder my reporting career, my tongue stud has opened lines of communication with potential sources for future stories like it did with the Wellstones.
When I worked as a reporter at the state Capitol, several lawmakers introduced themselves by asking what I had in my mouth. Although it might not be a conventional form of networking, these legislators later became important sources.
Of course, there is a down side. Some people open the lines of communication too far. An established journalist and researcher in Washington D.C. asked me: “How does it feel to French kiss?” Not something I want to discuss with a fifty-something woman over the water cooler.
And I felt a little uncomfortable when one state legislator recounted how another young woman showed him her pierced genitals.
But I haven’t been shunned from any committee meetings or shut out of any press conferences. I haven’t run across any signs in store windows warning: “Pierced people need not apply.”
While some people surely don’t appreciate my unconventional jewelry, they keep quiet about their disapproval.
Outside of work, people tend to be less restrained. Sometimes waiters or store clerks sternly tell me to open my mouth, then ask what my parents think about it. But this is all part of raising awareness.
As the shock level slowly disappears and acceptance sets in, I’m helping to make way for the next generation’s “radical” appearance change.
Coralie Carlson is a Daily columnist. She welcomes comments to [email protected]